Archives for July 2015

The Element of Surprise Fills Two Gardens: One Old, the Other New

I remember visiting the grand eighteenth century English garden Stourhead a few summers ago.

As I walked the property early on that bright June morning, I never knew what I would see next. First, through a path in the woods, I came up to the house with its enormous lawn, followed by the grotto, then the Pantheon, and finally the Palladian bridge.

Bridge at Stourhead

Palladian bridge at Stourhead

The walk became a path of surprise just going from place to place.

The English garden of the eighteenth century treasured that element of surprise. It still remains a worthwhile feature to strive for in the garden.

Recently I visited the Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in Londonderry, NH as part of the garden tour sponored by the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. I also discovered when I arrived at the garden that the Garden Conservancy had included it in its NH tour dates that same day.

Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast, Londonderry, NH

Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast, Londonderry, NH

I appreciated the many details that made up this Bed and Breakfast garden: the rise and fall of the earth as you walked through the garden, the pathways, the water features, the sculpture, and especially the collection of stunning plants, each carefully marked for the visitor. Also, all of it seemed quite a bit to assemble in such a small space since the garden was less than an acre. The best thing about the garden, however, had to be its surprise element. As you walked through it, you had no idea what was coming. It was a most enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon.

Now I see why I remember so well the classic garden at Stourhead.


In 1813 English Landscape Gardener Humphry Repton Proposed a Garden of Roses

Humphry Repton (1752-1818) along with William Kent and Lancelot Capability Brown share the honor of the three most famous landscape gardeners (or designers) in eighteenth century England.

Repton provided each of his clients with a book that he wrote and illustrated called the Red Book in which he recommended improvements in the landscape.

In the Red Book for the Earl of Bridgewater at Ashridge Park in 1813 Repton included an illustration of a proposed rosary, or rose garden.[below] The roses formed a circle of thin trellises whose hoopes may have been formed of iron according to Andre Rogger in his book Landscapes of Taste: The Art of Humphry Repton’s Red Books

Humphry Repton's Rosarium (1813)

Humphry Repton’s Rosary Drawing (1813)

What makes this image so powerful is that it illustrates that Repton designed with a love of the sensory pleasure a garden made of roses could provide.

Repton wrote in his Red Book to the Earl that the garden “is a piece of ground fenced off from cattle, and appropriated to the use and pleasure of man: it is or ought to be, cultivated and enriched by art.”

He writes too of the water in the rose garden in these words “Every drop of water used for the gardens should be made visible in different ways, beginning with a conduit in front of the conservatory, and from thence led to supply a jed d’eau in the rosary.” Thus he referred to the center of the fountain in the rosary with its upward spray of water.

Flower gardens were coming back into popularity by the end of the eighteenth century.  Also gardeners included other kinds of gardens in the landscape like an American garden, an arboretum, a grotto, and, of course, a rosary.

When Repton provided this aquatint, there was emerging a renewed interest in ornamental gardening, according to John Harris in his book A Garden Alphabet, a book dedicated to garden paintings, drawings, and aquatints of the English garden.

Repton’s illustration of the rosary represented an example of the beauty a modern garden could provide.



In the late 1890s Advertising Created Demand for the World’s Most Famous Rose

Before 1850 magazines survived only on sales and subscriptions.

Norma R. Fryatt wrote the book Sarah Josepha Hale: The Life and Times of a Nineteenth Century Career Woman. In the 1830s Hale had become the editor of the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, a publication filled with stories, poems, and essays, directed to women. Fryatt wrote “Publisher Louis E. Godey was walking a financial tightrope, for there were few advertisements in magazines of that day; all profits had to come from sales or subscriptions.”

By the 1890s ads appeared in national magazines like Ladies Home Journal, providing most of the money to support the publication.

It was at that time that ads in national magazines as well as ads in seed and nursery catalogs that were mailed across the country told the gardener about the new climbing rose, ‘Crimson Rambler’, imported from England in 1893.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in 1898 about this popular rose. He said, “This wonderful climbing rose is now so well known that we feel it unnecessary to comment particularly upon it. Everyone who saw a plant of it in bloom this year will not feel satisfied until he possesses one or more plants of it.”

At that time the ‘Crimson Rambler’ rose appeared in almost every garden catalog as well as in various forms of advertising like this trade card from the Charlton Nursery in Rochester,NY.  [below]

Tradecard for the Crimson Rambrle Rose

1898 Tradecard for the Crimson Rambler Rose

Advertising seeds and plants became big business by 1900, and in the process gardeners across America bought the new rose called ‘Crimson Rambler.’




Garden Advertising Both Reflects and Shapes Our Gardens

Now that gardening is in full swing with the summer’s warmth, we can enjoy the fruits of our hard work in the garden.

Do you ever wonder how you continue to learn what you need for the garden?

Often I turn to advertising for the garden.

Ads appear regularly online, in newspapers, magazines, and of course in email from some of my favorite companies like Proven Winners, Monrovia, White Flower Farm, and Colorblends. They show me the newest both in plants and garden fashion.

Garden ads teach what is the newest plant but also define gardening in its current form.

Why do you think all the recent emphasis on growing your own vegetables? Surely seed companies that supply such seeds promote that form of gardening as not only important but also the current fashion in gardening imporant to so many people.

Stephen Fox wrote in his book The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and its Creators, about modern advertising that began at the end of the nineteenth century. He said “Ads necessarily reflected the times, and as an independent force they helped shape the times.”

This week I came across an ad for a Portsmouth, NH restaurant called Cava that featured a vertical garden on its outside wall. It called itself “New Hampshire’s first Vertical Garden.” [below]

Downtown's Portsmouth, NH Cava Restaurant

Downtown Portsmouth, NH’s Cava Restaurant

Yesterday I received an email ad for vertical garden products from the company called Living Ledge. [below]

An ad from Living Ledge Company for its vertical garden

An ad from Living Ledge Company for its vertical garden

Coincidence? Not really. Vertical gardens are all the buzz at the moment. Advertising fosters that fashion and lets gardeners know what is the latest trend, what you need to be a modern gardener.

Thus advertising both reflects and creates the culture by providing the kind of garden we cultivate.

It was no coincidence that Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915)  once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.” He wrote his own advertising copy, which sold both seeds and garden fashion.

The trade journal Printers Ink wrote about Burpee in its June 17, 1915 issue in these words: “Starting with a modest business in 1876, the House of Burpee has grown into the greatest mail order seed house in the world. Like many other Philadelphia enterprises this establishment is of international importance. Mr. Burpee will tell you that he has built up this great business by advertising, and to a great extent that is so, but back of it all has been the integrity and the enthusiasm of the founder of the House of Burpee.”

If Mr. Burpee were alive today, he certainly would provide ads in social media forms, thus keeping his customers aware of the newest plants and trends in gardening.


The American Suburban Home Landscape Has Long Required the English Lawn

It is that time of year when we have to mow the lawn. plus trim its edges with the weed-wacker.

The lawn demands attention, but that has been the case for decades here in America.

The English lawn has long played a central role in the American home landscape, but especially since the growth of the suburbs in the nineteenth century.

It was the English who gave the world the smooth lawn made of grass.

Richardson Wright in his book The Story of Gardening writes, “By 1663 [horticulturist] John Rea was giving directions for making and maintaining such lawns as ever since have made English gardens the envy of the world. The old camomile lawn, for a long time a feature, was gradually supplanted by a lawn of grass.”

In the nineteenth century the American suburban home required a lawn. Here you can see the setting of a Victorian home on a carpet of grass. This illustration appeared in the journal called American Agriculturist in May 1888. [below]


AA May 1888

Suburban lawn in American Agriculturist May 1888

The flower-bed sits on the lawn as a way to showcase the colors of the flowers, but it is the lawn that fills most of the space.

Nineteenth century nursery and seed company owners along with real estate agents sold the importance of the lawn for the new suburban home.



Growing Succulents in the Garden Might Be the Latest Fashion – but How New Is It?

On my recent trip to Reno I visited the Sierra Water Gardens, a garden near downtown that specializes in succulents, water plants, and koi.

The garden’s own landscape in various designs of plants, water, and containers demonstrated quite well what the garden featured. The garden sits right on the Truckee River, which is quite low right now because Reno had little snow this winter, but there was enough water for the occasional water feature I came across as I walked the garden.

I saw succulents by the dozens in tiny pots awaiting the customer. Succulents can store water, or else they adapt to little water.  Cactus is one example, but also the sedum, certain forms of euphorbia, aloes, and, of course, agave, but there are many to choose from for that succulent garden.

I wondered how new is our attraction to growing succulents in the garden.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the 1886 April issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly, “The question is what to do with pot plants in the summer?…Succulents like aloes, cactuses, and century plants do very much better when set out in the open ground; and this is often a great advantage, as the huge tubs these plants are often kept in all summer are dreadfully troublesome…These succulents can be so arranged that they make pretty effect in the open air.”

Meehan encouraged growing succulents in the garden. Thus cultivating succulents has a long history in the American garden.

In 1901 Cornell University Professor of Horticulture L. H. Bailey wrote in his Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture that succulents would make a fine bed for ornamental planting.

This is a black and white drawing that appeared in Bailey’s volume. [below]

Ccylcopedia of Horticulture, 1901

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, 1901

Bailey also suggested a less formal approach might be used. He  wrote, “When a large number of mixed genera and species of succulents is available, exceptionally attractive plantings may be produced by a combination of these in more natural rather than formal designs.”

Here is the entrance to the garden in Reno. [below]

entrance xxx

Entrance to the Sierra Water Gardens in Reno

And of course I had to take a picture of the succulents for sale in their tiny pots. [below]

Succueltns plants for sale at the XX Garden in Reno.

Succulents  for sale at the garden

It was a grand visit to the Sierra Water Gardens. I had never seen so many succulents in one setting and that made the trip so worth taking.  Thanks to my nephew in Sparks, Nevada who let me know about this special garden, and thanks to the sales team we met that morning at the garden who made us feel right at home.



As in the Nineteenth Century, Plant Hunters Still Travel the World

Sometimes you might think that the plants available for your garden remain a limited number, especially when you see the same plants for sale at both the garden center and the big box store.

The situation is quite the opposite.  New plants appear on the market each year, thanks to modern-day plant explorers.

A plant explorer can still find a totally new plant from the wild, as in the case of writer and horticulturist Dan Hinkley with his trips to Asia.

Some US growers, who you might call modern-day plant hunters, also travel the globe in search of new plants for the American garden.

John Gaydos, product development specialist for the grower Proven Winners, once said, “Most new products are developed by plant breeders.”  PW works with sixty breeders all over the world. Many are hobbyist breeders in England, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Korea, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, and the US.

A breeder could be a garden hobbyist who might find a natural mutation or a hybrid in a greenhouse or in the garden.  PW then tests that plant.

Gaydos said, “All [Proven Winners’] products are vegetatively produced.”  Tissue culture, not the seed, is the method of choice for growing new plants. Thus one plant can produce 600,000 plants.

The trialing process takes three years.  PW grows thousands of plants to test each year.

I remember when the PW’s Euphoria ‘Diamond Frost’ first came on the market a few years ago.  It won twenty-three  awards at that time. I grew it in my garden in a container and loved it. The tiny white flowers resemble ‘Baby’s Breath.’ 

Today PW offers a new Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ which according to many gardeners is even better than ‘Diamond Frost.’ [below]

Euphorbia 'Diamond Delight' [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

The new Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

Though before the nineteenth century, but especially that century when the business was especially brisk for the middle class gardener, plant hunters traveled the globe to find new plants for the garden.

Bobby J. Ward writes in an article “Plants without Borders,” “The way we garden in the United Kingdom and North America has been heavily influenced by the introduction of foreign plants. Since the 1600s, intrepid plant hunters have introduced numerous additions to our gardens.”

Today growers like Proven Winners still surge ahead in search of that new plant for next season’s garden.


Victorian Gardeners Debated Beds or Mixed Borders

Today garden fashion includes both using the same plant in a mass setting but also mixed perennial borders.

That was not always the case.

Allison Kyle Leopold writes in her book The Victorian Garden, “Two major gardening themes, beds and borders, defined the form and shape of Victorian gardens…Most arbiters of the new, dramatic single-species beds would have avoided [mixed beds] which was scorned as ‘promiscuous’ plantings, quite a damaging judgement at the time.”

In 1888 the journal called  American Agriculturist also discussed the question. In the issue from March of that year appeared an article with the title “Our Flower Garden the Coming Season.” The article said, “The advocates of these two styles of gardening soon engaged in controversy, each advocating his style with vigor. “

Generally annuals were used in beds while perennials made up the major part of a border.  The AA wrote, “This planting in the ‘bedding system’ is for the most part confined to tender or half-hardy plants, and must be expensive, whether one purchases the plants, or propagates himself the many thousands required.  In this method of planting flowers lose all individuality, but help make up a mass of color.” Beds often had an intricate design on the lawn. The bed needed weekly maintenance to keep the color and the height of each plant to preserve the design.

The bedding system used colorful plants like geranium, verbena, lobelia and alternanthera. The American Agriculturist wrote about that style in these words, “In this, plants of low stature are planted close together, so that their flowers produce masses of contrasting or harmonizing colors.”

Each garden style, beds and borders, offered a certain value. The AA article wisely concluded with a recognition of value in each of the two forms of garden fashion. The article said, “As in most controversies, this has resulted in a compromise. Those who most strongly espoused the mixed border, the plants suitable for which are mainly hardy herbaceous perennials, have discovered that these plants may be so disposed as to be very effective, either in the different tints of their foliage, or by planting them so that their flowers will form pleasing effects, and thus secure all the advantages of the ‘bedding system’ in a much more permanent manner. At present, some of the most skilled horticulturists of Europe are giving attention to the grouping of herbaceous perennial plants.”

So it is today we see value in both mass planting and perennial borders.

Here is an example of mass planting of four coleus varieties in the Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, New Hampshire. [below]

Mass planting of coleus in several differnt colors at Fuller Gardens, North Hampton, NH

Mass planting of coleus in several different colors at Fuller Gardens, North Hampton, NH


Lavender Field in Reno, the Perfect Garden for a Wedding

I just returned from a few days in Reno, Nevada, spending time with family. While there I visited a few gardens even though the temperature at times rose to 102 degrees.

A garden that took me by surprise was Lavender Ridge, a field of almost an acre covered in lavender, growing in straight rows. Though the blue flowers were just coming out, they will bloom till the end of August.

The garden sits on the edge of the city, with the hills of Reno as a backdrop. The owners have made the garden an ideal setting for weddings. The garden includes an area of chairs for the guests, a rock garden with a waterfall, and tables for the dinner following the ceremony.

It is however the sight of the rows of lavender that draws your attention.

I thought how people have used lavender in so many ways over the centuries.

In her book Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants 1640-1940 Denise Wiles Adams mentions the early use of lavender on the west coast in the mission gardens. Lavender, she writes, also served as an edging plant in nineteenth century American gardens.

An article in Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick’s 1881 issue of his Vick’s Illustrated Monthly said, “In Olean, Cattaraugus County, in the State of New York, I recently saw the finest plants of Lavender I think in America. They were in pots in the window-real beauties-as good as they are in Sussex, England…The Lavender is of ancient race and holds its rank in spite of all the new plebian beauties that have come in vogue.”

Even Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in the 1880 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly  included an article entitled, “A Plea for the Old-Fashioned Lavender.” The writer said, “I remember a garden I visited frequently while I was in Southern Europe, and to me, one of the sweetest, prettiest things in it, was a hedge tenderly guarding the flower beds, a hedge, all silver and purple, of modest, old-fashioned Lavender.”

Then as if to remind his readers of how important lavender is in the garden, Meehan writes in the same issue, “Let us honor our gardens with this ancient patrician plant that stands in its simple suit of silver and purple, and claims a place among flowers that gold and scarlet can never fill.”

Lavender comes from the mint family and gardeners have long considered it both an herb and a shrub. Its blue colored spiked flowers provide aromatic oil. The gift shop at Lavender Ridge offered both lavender oil and soap for sale. The dried flowers are also fragrant.

A gardener needs to ensure certain growing conditions for lavender to succeed. Reno provides that setting because the plants in the garden looked quite healthy. Lavender thrives in full sun with sandy alkaline soil. The son of the owner told us an irrigation system helps at Lavender Ridge. There is not much to do in the garden, he said,  except cut the plants back in the fall and keep the rows weeded in the summer.

I think what is so beautiful about lavender is to see it planted in rows or as a hedge. The Lavender Ridge Garden in Reno grows its lavender in that way. No surprise that the afternoon we visited a wedding was about to take place.

Lavender Garden in Reno

Lavender Ridge in Reno